Azerbaijan has demanded Russia pay $300 million instead of the previously agreed $7 million for the lease of a Soviet-era anti-missile radar in the Azeri town of Gabala, the Kommersant daily reported on Wednesday, quoting sources in the Russian foreign and defense ministries.
Russia has been in talks with Azerbaijan to extend its lease of the radar, which it has operated in line with a 2002 deal, until 2025. The current agreement is due to expire on December 24.
Russia had expected to finalize talks by June this year, because a new agreement has to be signed at least six month before the existing one expires, the newspaper said. But the talks have been strained since the Azeri authorities asked Moscow to pay almost 43 times more for the lease than it used to, the report said.
“This sum of money is unreasonably large,” the paper quoted a Defense Ministry source as saying. “We will push for it to be significantly lowered. We still hope to reach an agreement.”
Another high-ranking source told the paper that Russia may stop operating the radar “if Baku does not limit its financial appetite.”
According to the report, Foreign Ministry officials have described the Azeri demands as “agenda-driven.”
Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Russia would continue talks with Azerbaijan on the radar station lease.
"Talks on the Gabala radar continue. The first round was very constructive. We will soon agree with our Azerbaijani colleagues on the date when the Russian delegation will head for Azerbaijan to continue the talks,” the deputy defense minister said.
The deputy director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, Alexander Khramchikhin, said the end of the Gabala radar lease will do no “principle damage” to Russia’s defense capabilities.
“As far as I know, a radar in Armavir is about to be completed. It will cover this area,” the expert said.
The Voronezh-class radar in Armavir in the Black Sea area is currently operating in a test mode. Such radars are a serious breakthrough compared to the previous generation radars of the Dnepr and Daryal class. The Gabala is a Daryal class radar.
“In my opinion, we don’t need it [the Gabala station] at all, it only encourages extortion by Azerbaijan,” Khramchikhin added.
On Monday, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev called for a Russian air base in the country to be closed, accusing Moscow of failing to pay the $15 million debt for its lease and saying neither Russia nor Kyrgyzstan needed the base.
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov promised later in the day to repay the debt by the end of February.